Land grabbing and district administration’s negligence have caused Bandarban’s Myaksi Chhara to shrink into a narrow channel.
Residents of the hilly district fear that the stream will soon die and waterlogging will become a regular occurrence in parts of Bandarban town if immediate measures are not taken.
District administration sources blame some influential locals for the encroachment.
The sources said a group of top Awami League leaders in the district, including CHT Affairs Minister Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing, Bandarban Awami League Finance Secretary Mahbubur Rahman, Municipality AL President Amal Das and Adviser to district AL Kajal Kanti Das, are involved in the grabbing.
They allegedly grabbed land on the banks of the stream and built multistoried commercial buildings there, the sources said.
Locals said the three-kilometre-long Myaksi Chhara, which flows into the Sangu river in Islampur area, was once used to be 40-feet wide, but now the width has shrunk to only about 5 feet.
During a recent visit, this correspondent found multiple structures erected on banks of the stream. Some of the structures were seven to eight years old while others 15 to 16 years.
Experts said these structures changed the course of the water flow and it resulted into floods that hit hard the town during monsoons.
Encroachment, littering, and the authorities’ decision to lease out the land were largely responsible for blockage of the flow, locals told this correspondent.
“We have seen how mindlessly they destroyed this water body in a tourist town like Bandarban. But we can’t do anything about it,” said Buddhajyoti Chakma, a local journalist. “The illegal structures must be removed to save the stream.”
Mong Swe Khai Marma, an executive engineer of Bandarban municipality, said, “We are helpless. The encroachers have political links and are erecting permanent structures on the banks.
“The main reason why waterlogging has been frequent in recent years is nothing but filling up of the waterbody.”
According to local Mayor Islam Baby, Bandarban Hill District Council Chairman Kwe Shwe Hla, who has been in-charge of a Bazar Fund for the last 12 years, leased out areas near the stream to ruling party men.
Bazar Fund is a self-earning administration in hill districts. It was created under CHT regulation 1900 and is regulated by Bazar Fund Manual.
When contacted, Kwe Shwe Hla said, “We allocated the plots in line with the Bazar Fund Manual Act. But those who were given the plots are illegally occupying land on the banks of the stream.”
The district administration did violate the conditions of the Bazar fund lease agreement in this case, he stressed.
“We gave on lease 1.86-acre land to district administration in 2009 for constructing an officers’ club but violating the conditions, they leased out the land to other influential people in 2012,” Shwe Hla added.
The National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) recently published 368 names of water body grabbers in Bandarban where there is no mention of those blamed by locals.
According to NRCC Chairman Muzibur Rahman Howlader, no permanent structure can be built within 150-feet land on banks of rivers on which vessels move regularly. The restricted area is 10 feet for water bodies not used by vessels.
“We are aware that names of influential people, who grabbed the waterbody in Bandarban, were dropped from the list. We have asked the DC to send their names to us,” he said.
About that, Bandarban Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Noman Hossain said, “We will include the names upon investigation and send them to the commission again.”
He further claimed that Kajal Kanti Das, an advisor to Bandarban AL, filled up portions of the canal to build a convention centre for his hotel.
Kajal rejected the allegation and claimed he bought the land.
Queried on the allegation of his involvement in land grabbing, Amal Das said, “We, including the hill tracts affairs minister, took the land on lease from the local administration a few years ago.”
Mahbubur Rahman echoed his statement.
When reached over the phone a few months ago, Minister Ushwe Sing refused to make any comment. This correspondent contacted him several times later, including yesterday, but he did not pick up the calls.
This correspondent visited the office of Bandarban Deputy Commissioner Md Daudul Islam recently, but he did not agree to make any comment.
Former additional deputy commissioner Md Abul Kalam said he did not know why the erstwhile DC gave lease of the land to influential people. “It was an utter violation of law,” he added.